The peoples of Fiji

People have lived in Fiji for over 3,000 years. Most people live on the two main islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. About three-quarters of Fijians live on Viti Levu’s coasts.

The Republic of Fiji is an archipelago of more than 330 islands in the South Pacific Ocean. Most of the islands were formed through volcanic activity.

At least 30 species of sharks, including Bull Sharks, are found in Fijian waters.

Video Transcript

We take care of all these big animals down there, like Bull Sharks, Silver Tip, Grey Reef, Lemon, Nurse, Black, White and sometimes Tiger Shark.

We love sharks very much. It is part of our culture and it is part of us.

Sharks are very smart. They are very smart. This is Papa. He hands over the food in his right hand. I have to swim to him slowly, take the food and swim away. When I run out of food the shark goes away and do their own thing. They don't go for our guests. It is what we teach them and all of those things kept in their mind.

People are coming to Fiji to spend their time with the sharks. They really love to stay here and dive with us and enjoy every minute of it. We educate most of them because when you see sharks the fear is stuck in your brain. So all those things, when you come here, we change it around and we want them to be happy. When you jump in the water with us, you will see and you will experience, "Oh, the sharks are related to us."

We are paying the people in the village, the people who owns the site. They get more money from the sharks than other resources they have in the village. A benefit that brings the sharks. It brings like a $5.5 million economy in Fiji.

Shark is part of our culture going back to before Christianity, going back many, many hundreds and hundreds of years ago. There was people in those days they believe in some nature around them. They believe in mountains. They worship the mountain, they worship the sun, the moon, but the people from my village, they choose the sharks to be their god. So it's a sea god. Every time they need something, they just worship the sea god. So his name is Dakuwaqa. Is very powerful and is still powerful today. Every time he comes to the village, he change himself to be a human being. A human being made all the all the witchcraft people and then stay in the village. We don't know. It happens like a couple of times when the people from Beqa island you know, their boat sink and they were swimming around in the ocean and then they go out there to stick them over the shore. Yeah. We don't know how it happened, but they believe in it.

When we talk about shark feeding - in 1997, even my family said, do I really want to do this? I say, Yeah, no problem, because I know we believe in it. The sharks just come and then every time I go out in the village say, yeah, I still have fingers. Everything is just kind of normal. When I jump in the water the shark knows me very well. They know each and every one of us. The shark know how I smell, how I look like in the water. He knows me, the colour of my wetsuit. Most of the sharks, they rely on colours, but some of them, they don't rely on colours, they rely on smell. The more we educate the people about sharks, the more these sharks can be protected.

Fiji map
Fiji map Image: Australian Museum © Australian Museum

Sharks before dredges

In 2016 a report from the University of the South Pacific (USP) confirmed that the lower parts of Fiji's Rewa River are a critical nursery habitat for Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks.

Since 2007 Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks have been an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red list.

They are often caught in Fijian waters by longline fisheries and are discarded after finning. Since the 2016 findings there have been calls to create and enforce protections for this vital habitat.

PM3 Rewa River Delta Map
PM3 Rewa River Delta Map Image: Australian Museum © Australian Museum

They are often caught in Fijian waters by longline fisheries and are discarded after finning. Since the 2016 findings there have been calls to create and enforce protections for this vital habitat.

Hammerhead shark pup
Hammerhead shark pup, Votua, Fiji. Image: Tom Vierus © Tom Vierus

Communities protecting sharks

Two fishing communities, a dive operator and Fiji’s Department of Fisheries worked together to establish a marine reserve off Fiji’s main island Viti Levu. The reserve, in an area known as Shark Reef, includes a 30km stretch of water called the Fiji Shark Corridor, between Viti Levu and Beqa Island.

Initially, parts of Shark Reef were declared a no-take zone, but indigenous communities were granted customary fishing rights. Subsequently, the communities voluntarily gave these up and granted Beqa Adventure Divers exclusive access. In return, the diving company donates the park’s entry fee to the villages.

PM3 Rewa River Delta Map
PM3 Rewa River Delta Map Image: Australian Museum © Australian Museum

Fiji’s first fully protected national marine park was declared in 2014 and now sharks, divers and the local villages enjoy the benefits.

Watch Beqa Adventure Divers in action on the video screen.

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Sharks don’t know the rules

Divers at Shark Reef regularly get up close to Bull Sharks, Grey Reef Sharks, Whitetip and Blacktip Reef sharks, Tawny Nurse Sharks and Sicklefin Lemon Sharks. Silvertip and Tiger Sharks occasionally come around too.

Unfortunately sharks don’t understand the law.

Because the protected area is relatively small, many sharks, especially migratory Bull Sharks, are likely to spend most of their time outside the marine park, where they can be targeted by commercial fishing operations. There are stories of commercial boats lined up outside the park, waiting for sharks to leave the area.

SCUBA divers dive with Bull Sharks in Fiji.
A group of SCUBA divers on a coral reef in Fiji with a group of Bull Sharks swimming nearby. Image: Tom Vierus © Tom Vierus

Shark gods

In Fiji, there are two ancestral shark gods. The names of both are linked to boats, particularly to the sail, which is shaped like a shark fin.

Dakuwaqa (Ndah-koo-wah-ngah) means ‘back of the boat’, with daku the back and waqa the boat.

Masilaca (Masi-lah-thah) comes from masi, which is bark cloth (and also a shark’s fin) and laca, which is sail.

Sharks exhibition, Fiji - Siteri Waqatairewa illustration
Sharks exhibition, Fiji - Siteri Waqatairewa illustration. Image: Australian Museum © Australian Museum

Our ancestor is the shark. Our story came to me from my grandmother.

Siteri Waqatairewa. Holder of her tribe’s ancestral shark story.

Sharks accompany Fiji President’s funeral flotilla

The late Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, one of Fiji’s highest chiefs and the nation’s first president, following Fiji’s Independence in 1987, is a descendant of the ancestral shark god Dakuwaqa.

Ganilau passed away at the age of 75, after a battle with leukemia.

His state funeral took place across almost six weeks and combined Fijian and Christian rituals and rites.

The government vessel carrying Ganilau’s casket from the nation’s capital Suva to his home island of Taveuni, located in Fiji’s north, was sent off with a 21-gun salute.

Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau.
Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau. Image: Sally Hope © Sally Hope

Mourners reported a school of sharks surfacing and accompanying the vessel out to sea. Shark sighting in Suva Harbor is rare, but on this occasion, it did not come as a surprise because of Ganilau’s connection to Dakuwaqa.

Fiji was a former British colony and was declared a republic following two military coups.

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Sharks exhibition hero marketing creative, 2022